In the Piazza neighborhood of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a weathered paper sign outside the Charities and Societies Agency (CSA), the government ministry responsible for licensing all nonprofits in the nation, including adoption agencies, hints at a sea change in the country’s recently booming international adoption industry. Written in Amharic, it declares the seizure of property of Better Future Adoption Services (BFAS), a faith-based U.S. adoption agency that had its license revoked earlier this year by the Ethiopian government.
In the past few years international adoptions from Ethiopia to the U.S., Canada and European countries skyrocketed, shooting from a few hundred a year to more than 2,500 adoptions to the U.S. alone in 2010. Scores of new adoption agencies rushed into the country as other past adoption “hot spot” countries such as Guatemala or China shut their doors or slowed down the adoption process with long waitlists. Some of these agencies brought with them corrupt practices seen in other nations where international adoption resulted in charges of corruption, fraud or coercion of birth families.
As in other countries, the adoption boom in Ethiopia began to generate reports of widespread abuse and documented irregularities in paperwork. In 2009 the Better Future Adoption Services agency was prosecuted after it was caught transporting children from one province to another, allegedly to facilitate quicker and cheaper adoptions.
In 2010, after complaints from both birth and adoptive families about problems in the system (including the alleged recruitment of children for adoption from intact families), BFAS again became embroiled in scandal and was accused of regularly changing paperwork for children to declare their parents dead. These accusations, publicized in a local newsletter, led to government investigation and the eventual revocation of the agency’s license on charges of child trafficking—the first adoption entity to be shut down in the country. In the wake of these accusations, adoptions from Ethiopia are set to slow dramatically.